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English-Language Learners

English-Learners and Virtual Learning During COVID-19: Will Federal Guidance Help?

By Corey Mitchell — May 26, 2020 2 min read
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A recently released U.S. Department of Education fact sheet reminds educators that schools must continue to provide support for English-language learners during distance learning, but the instructions came nearly two months after most brick-and-mortar schools around the country had shut down for the year to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The 10-page fact sheet issued May 18 outlines how districts can provide support to English-learner students during distance learning, but concedes that “schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided” and that their English-language skills may suffer because “they may have experienced limited instruction for an extended time during the school closures.”

Advocates are concerned that the outbreak-related closures could have severe consequences for the roughly 5 million students who receive tailored language support while classes are in session.

In a video posted online in English and Spanish, Lorena Orozco McElwain, the new director of the federal Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), which oversees English-language-learner education, acknowledged concerns about distance learning.

“During this pandemic, OELA is committed to understanding English-learners’ access to distance learning, especially in underserved communities and in tribal communities,” McElwain said in the video posted to the agency’s YouTube channel.

The fact sheet also advises that schools should not reclassify students and exit them from English-learner services “unless the student has demonstrated proficiency on a valid and reliable assessment that includes the four domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.” For schools that were not able to complete their English-language proficiency tests before schools shut down, districts should try to complete testing this fall if possible, while acknowledging that students’ skills may have regressed.

The fact sheet also reminds schools that if distance learning is occurring, all new students, including those who enrolled while physical schools are closed, should be screened to determine if they need English-learner support services.

Here’s a look at the guidance from the office of English language acquisition.

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Image Credit: In this Nov. 26, 2018, file photo, Odalys Tebalan works on an assignment at Fairview Elementary in Carthage, Mo. Millions of children are suddenly learning at home everything from reading and multiplication to literature and calculus as a result of school closures prompted by the global coronavirus pandemic. Many parents are trying to guide their children through assignments, but many face the challenge of English comprehension. -- Roger Nomer/The Joplin Globe